Oyster growers and oyster lovers gather this month in Lincoln County to celebrate a culinary tradition dating back to 200 B.C., while highlighting the present day economic and cultural benefits of the bounty from Maine’s waters.  

We’re proud Mainers and long-time participants in the tradition of sustainable oyster farming on the Damariscotta River estuaryOur farms improve water quality, increase biodiversity, and create jobs. Along with other farms on the river we launched the Damariscotta Oyster Celebration to educate and inspire oyster culinary innovations in food, drink and culture and highlight the uniqueness of this aquaculture community. 

As business owners who rely on the sea for our livelihoods, we’re also obligated to draw attention to an issue that is threatening these traditions and the economy of coastal communities throughout the United States 

Climate change is a real and present threat to shellfish aquaculture, and to communities that are economically tied to the sea.  The evidence is easy to find, in sea level rise, the increased frequency and severity of storms, and worsening of algae and bacteria outbreaks that harm cropsClimate change also leads to the increasing acidification of the oceansespecially detrimental to shellfish growers. 

Seawater becomes more acidic when carbon dioxide, the most common of the so-called “greenhouse gases,” dissolves into the water. After 150 years of burning fossil fuels, surface waters are now 30 percent more acidic than they were at the start of the industrial revolution. Ocean acidification makes it harder for shellfish like oysters, clams, scallops, and mussels to build strong shells. This in turn makes them more vulnerable to disease and predators.  

Scientists say the Gulf of Maine is more susceptible to pressures of ocean acidification than any other region on the East Coast. Alreadyreliable hatchery larval production of oysters on the Damariscotta River relies on chemical buffering of larval cultures, as it does in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere in U.S. coastal waters. 

As members of the Shellfish Growers Climate Coalition (SGCC), we are committed to bringing about climate policy action by sharing stories of how climate change is already harming our operations. From a group of seven founding members in 2018, the coalition has expanded to more than 100 member-growers in 20 states, many of whom have been making their living farming from the sea for generations, and whose businesses form the backbone of their small-town coastal communities. We are speaking out—in our communities, at our state capitals, and in Washington, DC. 

While climate change continues to be a difficult place to find common ground in Congress, we have seen progress in recent action taken by the U.S. House of Representatives, approving four pieces of bipartisan legislation that are important to the continued viability of our businesses  

The House unanimously approved H.R. 1237, the “COAST Research Act of 2019” (Co-sponsored by Rep. Chellie Pingree, H.R. 1716, the “Coastal Communities Ocean Acidification Act of 2019” (Co-Sponsored by Rep. Jared Golden), H.R. 1921, the “Ocean Acidification Innovation Act of 2019”, and H.R. 988, the “NEAR Act of 2019.” If enacted, these bills, will improve our understanding of the present and future impacts of ocean acidification on commercially important species and coastal communities that depend upon them. and provide federal help as we figure out how to respond to the threats that our communities and businesses face.   

Make no mistake, these measures are not nearly enough to meet the challenge of climate change, but the unanimous approval of these measures confirms that the time and effort our SGCC members and others are committing to press for action are not in vain. 

Chris Davis and Bill Mook are owners of Pemaquid Oyster Company and Mook Sea Farm, two of the first oyster farms on the Damariscotta River. 

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